A team of scientists were able to keep a pig's brain alive for 36 hours while outside of its body, a breakthrough that may see future applications with human brains.
The findings, however, may go beyond the realm of science, as it may also change the way how people perceive consciousness and death.
Pig Brain Kept Alive Outside Body
Researchers were able to restore circulation to pig brains outside of their bodies, and have kept the organs alive up to as long as 36 hours.
The feat was disclosed by Yale University neuroscientist Nenad Sestan during a meeting at the National Institutes of Health that investigated ethical issues that may arise from the exploration of the human brain.
Sestan revealed that in an experiment involving 100 to 200 pig brains that were recovered from a slaughterhouse, his team was able to revive the pig brains through a combination of heaters, pumps, and bags filled with artificial blood at body temperature.
He noted that there was no sign that the pig brains were able to regain consciousness. However, in what he described was a "mind-boggling" and "unexpected" result, the researchers discovered billions of brain cells that were healthy.
Sestan added that the method will likely work on any species and not just on pigs, opening the door for it to be used on human brains. One speculated application is to use disembodied but alive human brains for testing new drugs that may be too dangerous to try on living people.
The Amazing Human Brain
The human brain an amazing organ, with recent research revealing that adults as old as 79 years old are still producing new brain cells. However, the human brain is also very vulnerable, leading to intensive studies on how to cure it from illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease. There is no definite treatment yet, but scientists may be getting closer to a cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Sestan's achievement may present a new study for scientists to examine intact, living brains for various research purposes. However, it can also lead to the futuristic method of extending life by keeping human brains alive, even when the body has perished, and possibly even transplanting the brain to another body.
While such an application may have its merits, it raises serious ethical issues. When does working with a human brain overstep the boundary between researching an organ and tinkering with human life? Sestan, along with several other scientists, have asserted that ethical guidelines have to be established before brain tissue research further develops.